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Chapter 8: plans of escape.

  • Taken back to the pen.
  • -- plans of escape. -- Tunnels. -- bloodhounds. -- poor drummer boy. -- our plan

Rebels and Yanks worked together till the wounded were all out of the wreck, which was probably about midnight. We did not get all the dead out till daylight next morning.

A construction train came down next morning, unloaded its gang of men, took up the wounded, and returned to Andersonville. It returned about noon, and after getting the debris out of the way, and getting all the cars that could be run on the track, they took us back to the pen.

One of the smashed cars was covered with [78] a tin roof, of which I secured a piece about 20x24 inches, and after getting into prison, I made me a nice pan, by turning up about four inches all around. It proved to be a very valuable piece of property after we began to draw our rations.

When the train came back after taking the wounded, they brought the bloodhounds and took a circuit around the wreck before we left. This gave Jess the exquisite happiness of saying, “I told you so!”

Of course, in such a crowd, there were always men studying plans of escape. When the camp was new, and only one stockade stood between the prisoner and freedom, there were many attempts to tunnel out. To do this required much caution and labor. A well was dug about eight or ten feet deep, and from the bottom of this a tunnel was run horizontally to pass under the wall, and then rise to the surface. The work had to be done by night, and the hole kept hid by day. The best tools that we could obtain were a case-knife and half of an unsoldered canteen for digging, and a haversack to carry out the dirt. A good substitute for [79] the haversack, and one often used, was a pants-leg tied up at one end. To prevent caving in, the hole was made as small as possible — I think about twenty inches in diameter, just large enough for a man to crawl through.

After a tunnel was well under way, a man with such an outfit, with two strings to his sack as long as the tunnel, would, by feet and elbows, work his way to the end of the hole, pick the dirt loose with his knife, and with the half canteen scrape it into the sack; then a comrade at the mouth would pull the sack along by one string, he keeping the end of the other to pull it back. A third man would take the dirt away in another sack, pants-leg or blouse-sleeve, and scatter it where it would not be noticed.

A man could hardly get his breath in the tunnel; and owing to the sandy nature of the ground, there was always danger of caving in.

It was hard to keep it secret, for there were men in the pen mean enough to tell the rebels of any such attempt. There was [80] a fellow (he died at Savannah) who wore a large “T” on his forehead. He informed on a tunnel company when they were nearly through, and they made the “T” with a hot railroad spike. After that, when a sneak reported on his fellow-prisoners, the rebs took him out of the pen, and we saw him no more.

If all these dangers and difficulties were surmounted, and the tunnel was opened, the rebs would find the hole the next day, and start the bloodhounds from it.

Oh, those hounds! How we dreaded them! Let the beast's once catch the scent of a poor fugitive, and he was “gone up.”

After the outer stockade was built, it greatly increased the difficulty of tunneling, as it would require a length of about two hundred and twenty-five feet to safely pass under both walls. Still there were men desperate enough to attempt it.

One company, after weeks of toil and danger, on a rainy night in August, opened their hole, and crawled to the outer world. I think there were fifteen or twenty went through, though there were so many conflicting [81] reports that I do not pretend to give exact numbers.

The gang of Johnnies that came every morning to count the nineties, found the deficit and reported it. We were notified from headquarters that we would get no rations till those men were found. We did not believe it; we thought it was done to scare us. We only got one scanty little feed each day anyhow, and we didn't think we could live if we missed that. As the hour when they fed us drew near, thousands of hungry men watched the gate. The hour passed. What terrible suspense as the next hour dragged along! Slowly the sun went down behind the dark pines. I thought I would try to describe our feelings as that day went out; but I can't. I shall not try it. I have no words. I give you the bare fact-thirty thousand men, already in a starving condition, fasted forty-eight hours to gratify the malice of those officers, because fifteen or twenty men had outwitted them.

The next day they were brought back, [82] some of them badly torn and mangled by the bloodhounds.

There were some other plans of escape tried, but they were almost invariably failures, and are not worth mention. I did refer to one--the man who was taken out as dead.

There was a drummer boy, whose smooth face and childish voice called for sympathy. He was rapidly wasting away, and his friends were anxious to save him. The beans were brought in barrels, which were set on the ground to be emptied, and the empty barrels taken out in the last wagon that came in. One day a barrel was turned over on its side to scrape out all the beans; the boy squatted at its mouth, and when the Quartermaster's back was turned, it was turned bottom-upward over him. When the last load came in, two men set that barrel up in the wagon without turning it over. The boy got out all right, but was caught and brought back next day. He didn't last long after that. Three or four weeks later, he was put in a wagon at the [83] other gate. That time we knew that he would never be sent back.

My experience the night of the wreck set me thinking. I knew it was next to impossible to get away from the pen. But they would probably ship more prisoners away. Could a man jump from a train and escape? I believed it could be done. That thought once in my mind, stayed there.

I hunted up several men who, at sundry times and in divers manners had tried to reach our lines and failed. From them I learned of the dangers to be encountered after getting out.

The South lived in a constant dread of a slave insurrection, and to guard against it the whole country was kept under vigilant surveillance.

If a stranger was seen, he was at once arrested, and made to account for himself. At night the roads were all patrolled by mounted provost guards. A man to be safe, would have to keep well hid by day, and keep away from all traveled roads at night. To travel four or five hundred miles and comply with these conditions is a bigger [84] job than it looks to be till you have worked at it for a week or two. The question of subsistence makes the problem still harder.

After getting all the knowledge and hints I could, I told Cudge S., and asked him to go with me. He would not risk it. I tried Tom B. He heard my plan, and gave me his hand on it.

Our plan was to be taken out, if possible, so as to leave in the evening, so that night would be on the first part of the road; to jump off at some point before we reached Macon; then to travel northwest until we reached the Chattahoochee, and reached the high mountainous divide between it and the waters of the Tombigbee; thence north till we would reach our lines, somewhere between Big Shanty and Resaca.

We expected a four hundred miles trip, and thought we could make it in a month. We expected to keep hid by day till we reached the wooded hills of Alabama, when we hoped to be able to travel a little by day.

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